Barclays Eagle Labs - Powering Innovation beyond the High Street

A blog post by Pete Wood, DesignSpark

When I was growing up in the 1980’s our local bank was the centre of the community.  Many people knew their Bank Manager by name and Cash Machines weren’t that common in small villages and towns, so you had to go into the branch to take out cash, pay in money or get a loan.  My Mum would chat for ages with friends and neighbours whilst I played Top Trumps with my sister before we were dragged onto the bus for town.

The advent of the digital generation has changed communities in the UK, banks and post offices are closing and our high streets are full of chain coffee shops and empty units. The maker and start-up industry however is supercharging, driven by the digital revolution and the accessibility of low cost platforms like Raspberry Pi, Arduino and 3D printers and an endless supply of ideas and projects available on the internet.   This has also seen the rise of the Makerspace, something that not too long ago was an underground movement of an elite gathering of hard core engineers, but are now expanding across some of our towns and cities. Often from these Makerspace tech-start-ups are born, but they are often lacking in the business skills and mentoring they need to turn their vison into a successful business.

Barclays are no stranger to innovation. They were first in the UK to install an ATM in their Enfield branch in London.  John Shepherd-Barron, the British inventor who pioneered the development of the cash machine in the late 1960’s came up with the idea while he was in the bath. 

With the changing landscape, Barclays saw an opportunity to create hybrid spaces placed within the heart of our towns and cities to help support the local communities of entrepreneurs, innovators and makers. Opening their first Eagle Lab in Cambridge UK in 2016 above one of their branches, this was their first step that blended a Maker Space and Tech Incubator concept onto the high street, open to the local community.  It was designed to help inspire and offer a starter home to a new generation of entrepreneurs and tech start-ups. 

Their mission was to help those in the local community to bring their great ideas to life and help them scale up into successful businesses. It offered a collaborative working space, workshops and mentoring to learn new skills and an in house Makerspace to enable rapid prototyping through Digital Fabrication.  It also offered digital empowerment to different generations in the local community, whether that be a place where kids can learn to code or help the senior generation with digital transformation to the internet and digital banking.

Today they have 14 Eagle Labs, each focusing on a specialism. Anyone can use the space and facilities, but they are home to over 1000 resident entrepreneurs and 220 small start-ups.

The Cardiff Eagle Lab was officially opened on 31st Jan 2018.  It has 120 desks and some office spaces for more established start-ups. It is a collaboration with Legal and General. It has an IoT focus and a MakerSpace and events program to support. Cardiff is a wonderful city undertaking lots of regeneration projects, it has a great university and lots of local talent. Initiatives like the Barclays Eagle Labs are helping keep and develop local talent and new business start-ups by offering the support and resources they might need to help them go into business, scale up and accelerate their growth locally and on into international markets. 

One of the residents is Sure Chill, a Welsh start-up company who have invented a cooling technology that will allow a refrigerator to last 10 days without power.  This is a lifesaving technology in developing countries for storing vaccines in places with sporadic electricity supplies.

RS Components has been supporting engineers for over 80 years, offering the building blocks of innovation through the products that we sell.  RS offers almost everything someone might need to create and develop a product from components and tools to create a proof of concept to prototype, Test and Measurement products and then to take it to a production ready product. Through our DesignSpark Community, we offer free CAD design Software, technical articles, ideas and support through the DesignSpark community.

Most of the Eagle Labs have a MakerSpace, Cardiff is one of the biggest and has IoT at the centre of activities.  The Cardiff Lab is a collaboration between RS, DesignSpark and Barclays.  We decided to help fit out the lab with the essential bits of hardware someone would need to create and develop a prototype.   “The DesignSpark MakerSpace” has  everything from RSPro hand tools to 3D printers and high end RSPro test and measurement equipment, and like any cooks cupboard, it’s stocked with various components and consumables one might need to create something special.

Each Eagle Lab has a Lab Manager. Ash Croome looks after the lab at Cardiff and is on hand to help out those who would like support and advice to create a prototype. 

The lab will be running a program of workshops and boot camps to help companies with IoT applications.  It will also invite in local schools to learn how to make and code.  A long way from my childhood experience of playing Top Trumps, making and coding would have been much more fun!

At the launch event on 31st Jan, over 150 people came along.  There were tours of the DesignSpark Makerspace which included talks from Ashok Vaswani Barclays CEO UK, and Nigel Wilson CEO of Legal & General, both were excited by the what The Eagle Labs program can do to help new start-ups and entrepreneurs in the Cardiff area as well as others in the local community.

What I love about the Eagle Labs initiative is that it has a real sense of community, it’s not just a place for businesses, but it’s also a place to inspire the younger generation and help with the digital transformation of the older generation, in locations accessible to them all. It's also a recognisable brand that people know and trust.

Cardiff Eagle Lab

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A View of inside Cardiff Eagle Lab

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